Aid agencies are under pressure. Following the terrible revelations about Oxfam staff who used prostitutes in Haiti, the public are starting to question what values the industry represents. They are right to be asking questions – because, although most of what NGOs do is praiseworthy, many large charities are also involved in what Pope Francis has called “ideological colonialism”.

In the last two decades, the developed world has sent a staggering $106.2 billion to the developing world in order to slow its population growth. As a result of the call to action at the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994, donors have increased their annual spending on population control of the poor from $0.61 billion in 1993 to $12.4 billion in 2012, an increase of 1,933 per cent.

To put this in perspective, the total amount of foreign aid to the developing world increased from $56 billion in 1993 to $133.75 billion in 2012, an increase of 138 per cent, which, though high, is dwarfed by the huge increase in population control funding. In fact, population programme donations to Africa used to be the lowest portion of social-sector foreign aid, much lower than aid for education, health, water, sanitation, and so on. But since 2009, population control funding has surged ahead of funding for everything else. In 2014, the United States and the United Kingdom targeted 31 per cent and 43 per cent, respectively, of their African aid to population control. The amounts are significant because these two nations are the highest foreign aid donors in the world.

Yet ideologically driven advocates keep asking wealthy donors at international gatherings to put even more focus on providing contraceptives for women in the developing world. In 2012, when population control funding reached the highest it had ever been, Melinda Gates launched her worldwide campaign to “put birth control back on the agenda”. Her efforts have been so well received in the Western world, especially among the humanitarian aid community, that they have resulted in even more Western spending on family planning for the poor of the world. And there can be no doubt that there are many cooperative and compliant cabinet members, ministers, legislators, government officials and reproductive health NGO operatives in the developing world who are benefiting from this largesse.

Contraception providers and advocates are quick to declare the successes of their programmes to justify their interference in Africa. They conflate the amount of donor-sponsored contraceptives given to the poor with the number of pregnancies that were prevented by them, which is then conflated with the number of “children saved”. But in reality, no matter how much money is spent on sending contraceptives to Africa, there is still minimal acceptance of these artificial methods of family planning among Africans.

A number of studies illustrate the lack of African zeal for contraception. One notable phenomenon is the high rate of contraception discontinuation. Lifetime contraceptive discontinuation is measured as the percentage of currently married women who used a method of contraception in the past but were not using a method at the time of the survey. According to another survey by the United States Agency for International Development, the discontinuation rates in sub-Saharan Africa are the highest in the world. The average rate in the 18 African countries surveyed is 53 per cent, much higher than the rates in most of Asia and Latin America, which on average are about 30 per cent.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection